One of the most important techniques in any self respecting organic garden or xeriscape landscape is mulching.
I use many methods, depending on the ultimate goal.
If it’s an area that will be dug up and replanted, such as a nursery bed or vegetable garden, I’ll use an organic mulching material that will break down and can be dug in at the end of the season, or simply use the lasagna gardening or sheet composting methods.
There are several methods of mulching and materials that I choose from.
In an area that is for a permanent display garden of stock plants, such as Sedum I’ll use a mulch in the areas between the plants and in the pathways in the vegetable garden to keep the weeds down and serve as a moisture reservoir.
In the well drained soil I’m fortunate to have, rainfall drains away quickly unless I use some type of mulch.
Organic mulching materials are anything that will eventually rot down. Advantages of these kinds of mulches are that they will add organic matter to the soil and improve it over time.
Disadvantages are that they have to be replenished; they may harbour slugs and other pests, and become slimy (and slippery) when over wet such as under irrigation.
Here are some options:
I use this for perennial beds, especially in shade to provide more moisture retention, and dig it in to vegetable gardens to add extra organic matter. If the leaves are left whole and not chopped, they can sometimes mat down, becoming slippery to walk on. Let the chickens take care of that for you in the chicken pen by mixing it with other nutrient rich materials.
Add small amounts to compost, or on top of the soil, or for paths. If your chickens can start breaking this down in the chicken house with the deep litter method, it will take a few months to mature but will be a rich source of nutrients for your vegetable garden.
Also available in some areas are:
Inorganic or mineral mulches are pretty well permanent, requiring only the occasional topping up. Some of the best are:
I use lava rock on most of my succulents, both indoor tender types and the hardy Sedum and Sempervivum. They all thrive with this to protect the root zone.
In some cases, you don’t really need an attractive mulch; you just need to restrict the light getting to the soil to prevent weed growth. In these situations, I just use anything I have available to cover the soil. Sometimes I’ll use several sheets of newspaper – the best ones are those that are full sized sheets, not the tabloid size. This has to be done on a windless day, or it will be all over the neighbourhood.
Cover this with sawdust, wood chips, sand or any other available material. This is a great system for making new beds, sometimes referred to as lasagna gardening, or for paths. I also use cardboard in the same way.
Also keep your eyes open for old carpet. I cut it into lengths about 60cm across which can be rolled out wherever I need a new bed. After the weeds are cast into submission, I take up the carpet to be used somewhere else, add a layer of chopped leaves, sawdust or horse manure, and cover with cardboard or newspaper.
Weight this down with more sawdust or other material, and water well. You can actually plant right through into the ground below, if it’s not completely hardpan or clay.
Even better is to use compost which has earthworms in it to break up the soil below. Once you use this method, you won’t go back to the backbreaking labor of hand digging or rotor tilling. This method may take a little longer, but is so much less work for the gardener.
Paths can be built the same way; temporarily use the carpet to kill the weeds, lay down several layers of newspaper, and then weigh it down with sawdust, wood chips, bark mulch or other wood waste. Over time, the newspaper will break down, possibly allowing weeds through; topping up the mulch will eliminate them easily as they’ll already be weakened.
Mulching is the easiest and best way to control unwanted weeds in your garden. No amount of chemical warfare will give your garden additional organic matter, improved drainage or beauty like mulches. Choose the right one for the specific need, tailoring the mulch to the requirements.